More on Polynesian gift-giving: The Samoan sau and the fine mats (toonga), the Maori hau and the treasures (taonga)

Serge Tcherkézoff


This commentary explores the Samoan concept of sau in relation to the Maori concept of hau and elaborates on a comparison—once made by Marcel Mauss—between the sacred gifts of taonga (Maori) and toonga (Samoa). After illustrating how Lévi-Strauss’ interpretation of Mauss’ concepts of “the sacred” and “mana” had abusively narrowed the latter’s thoughts that led him to write the Essay on the gift, this paper presents new ethnographic material on the Samoan notion of sau in order to rethink the sociocosmic quality of the Maori hau. This material reveals that the sacred gifts of Samoans and Maoris are to be understood not through their material specificity (fine mats, nephrite carving, etc.), but through their capacity—given to them through ritual—to capture reference to the origins of the clan.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.2.016